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Price v. MTD Products and Safety National Casualty Corporation

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 19, 2017


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/13/2016




          GRIFFIS, P.J.

         ¶1. Timothy Price appeals the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission's denial of his workers' compensation claim. We find no error and affirm.


         ¶2. Price was employed by MTD Products from 1989 to 2012. MTD manufactures lawn equipment, including lawnmowers, snow blowers, edgers, and tillers. Price's primary job was to drive a tow motor, which is a modified forklift. Price would use the tow motor to pick up and transport boxes. However, if the production line became backed up or there were problems with the products coming down the general assembly line, Price would have to physically pick up the boxes and stack them on the floor. Price estimated the boxes could weigh up to 120 pounds.

         ¶3. Price alleges he sustained a compensable work-related injury to his neck and lower back on September 6, 2012. Specifically, Price claims he "suffered back and neck injuries, stemming from loading heavy boxes and from twisting and bending at work." He filed a petition to controvert on May 14, 2013. An evidentiary hearing was subsequently held before an administrative judge. A summary of the evidence is as follows:

         Lay evidence

         ¶4. Price testified that he presented to work on September 6, 2012, around 6 a.m., feeling "fine." However, around 1 to 1:30 p.m., he "all of the sudden started feeling pain." According to Price, he advised his supervisor, David Swain, that he hurt his neck and back lifting lawnmowers. Price testified that Swain instructed him to see Janice Moore, MTD's occupational nurse, who advised him to go to Med Serve for treatment.

         ¶5. Price went to Med Serve on September 7, 2012, and saw Dr. Timothy Albers. Price claimed he told Dr. Albers that he was hurt at work. Price subsequently went to Baldwyn Family Medical on September 18, 2012, where he saw nurse practitioner Pam Hodges.

         ¶6. Price stated that his group health carrier was paying for his treatment since he did not know about workers' compensation. However, Price admitted that he went through yearly training at work, during which he was instructed on reporting work-related accidents. Price further acknowledged watching PowerPoint presentations wherein he was instructed to always report work-related injuries.

         ¶7. Price applied for and received Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and short- term disability for twenty-six weeks, beginning September 18, 2012. He completed an Employee's Report of Incident or Injury on October 31, 2012.

         ¶8. Swain, Price's supervisor, testified that he did not recall Price reporting a work-related injury on September 6, 2012. Instead, Price complained of a backache and stated that his back had been hurting for a long time. Price asked to take off the next day to go to a doctor's appointment, which he had already scheduled. Swain stated that he would have completed a supervisor's accident report on September 6, 2012, had Price reported a work-related injury. However, Swain did not complete an accident report until November 1, 2012, after he was notified by Moore of Price's allegations.

         ¶9. Moore, MTD's occupational nurse, testified that she had no recollection of Price reporting a work-related injury to either his back or neck on September 6, 2012. She further testified that had Price reported a work-related injury, she would have documented the complaints and instructed Price's supervisor to complete an accident report. Additionally, Moore stated that had Price reported a work-related injury, she would have sent him to Express Care South, not Med Serve. Moore explained that she did not use Med Serve for work-related injuries, but instead sent injured workers to Express Care South.

         ¶10. Moore testified that she was first notified by Price of his work injury on October 30, 2012, by telephone. She advised Price that he would need to return to the office to complete an injury report. Price reported to her office October 31, 2012, and completed the report.

         ¶11. Teresa Dye, the human resources coordinator at MTD, confirmed that Price applied and was approved for FMLA and short-term disability. Dye stated Price never advised of a work-related injury and would not have been eligible for short-term disability had his injury been work-related.

         Medical evidence

         ¶12. Medical records from Aurora Spine Centers show Price presented to Dr. Walter Eckman on October 5, 2009, approximately three years prior to his alleged work injury, with a chief complaint of low back pain. The records note that Price had experienced "[c]hronic intermittent low-back and neck pain for 4 years."

         ¶13. Medical records from Med Serve indicate that on September 7, 2012, the day after his alleged injury, Price presented to Dr. Albers with a chief complaint of neck and back pain. According to Dr. Albers's notes, Price had experienced pain "on and off since 2008" and had "long-standing cervical and lumbar pain." However, Dr. Albers noted "[n]o discrete history of trauma to neck or low back." The notes further reflect that Price had previously received epidurals for pain and wanted to pursue this option again, as his pain had "significantly worsen[ed] over the past couple of months."

         ¶14. The medical records from Price's September 7, 2012 visit do not indicate an acute injury or "sudden" pain, as described by Price, nor do they support Price's assertion that he told Dr. Albers he was injured at work.

         ¶15. On September 10, 2012, an MRI of both the cervical and lumbar spine was performed, which indicated cervical and lumbar spondylosis, and multilevel cervical and lumbar disc bulges. Thereafter, on September 18, 2012, Dr. Albers diagnosed Price with degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, chronic neck and low-back pain, and spondylosis. Price was excused from work until September 27, 2012.

         ¶16. Price saw nurse practitioner Hodges at Baldwyn Family Medical Clinic on September 18, 2012. The medical records show Price complained of back pain and stated he was unable to work. However, the medical records do not reflect that Price reported a work-related injury or stated that his pain was work-related. Instead, Price described the duration of his pain as "3 y[ea]rs."

         ¶17. Neurosurgeon Dr. Glenn Crosby II testified by deposition that he first saw Price on October 26, 2012, for an evaluation of his neck and low back. Price described his low-back pain as "chronic in nature" and "felt his back pain was related to the type of work he did." Price indicated that his neck pain was "more acute" and "was aggravated in mid-September when he was doing fine without neck pain and was injured at work lifting some heavy objects, [and] had immediate neck pain."

         ¶18. Dr. Crosby's impression was that Price had a work injury, which caused a cervical disc rupture with severe neck pain. He further found Price's chronic back pain was aggravated by his work conditions. Dr. Crosby performed surgery on February 6, ...

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